The ‘model minority’ construct is one that suggests specific groups - like the Asian diaspora - experience a greater degree of success (e.g. higher incomes, lower poverty rates, higher graduation rates...etc) compared to the population at large. Although the model minority construct may cloud perceived disadvantage for some Asians, it remains a destructive force on an individual and communal level.
It is a tool that validates anti-blackness, while simultaneously protecting the systems of white supremacy.
The model minority myth is harmful because it:
- Fosters racism within Asian communities towards other groups of colour - often dividing and pitting POCs against one another.
- Creates the idea of “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants” while upholding the notion of meritocracy and the “American Dream”.
- Leaves the voices of many Asian groups out of discussions of racism, gender inequality, representation, ableism, sexual orientation and sexuality.
- Wipes out a whole history of oppression and solidarity in conjunction with other minority communities.
Not only does the myth of the model minority obscure a history of oppression against Asian communities, but it also serves to erase the ongoing racial injustices within the Asian diaspora by only highlighting the successes of the community. Racism against Asian communities is alive in various forms in the present day. For instance, a 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that Asian Americans face significant housing discrimination: when it comes to renting, Asians are, on average, shown 6.6% less units compared to Whites, and told about 9.8% less units. These rates are comparable to the housing discrimination faced by Black and Hispanic communities.
Finally, the model minority myth is dangerous because it dismisses the various Asian identities that exist by homogenizing communities with radically different experiences, histories, traditions and values. So, what exactly does the present-day experience of the “model minority” look like? By visualizing existing data from the 2007-2009 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, here we show that the experiences of the Asian diaspora are vastly different when it comes to income, poverty, education, and health insurance coverage.
When it comes to income levels, while some Asian communities thrive in relation to White, Black and Hispanic identifying groups, many clearly fall below White median family incomes.
Comparable to the statistics on income levels, although many Asian communities have a lower percentage of families living in poverty than Native-American, Black and Hispanic-identifying groups, many of these same groups are still at an economic disadvantage compared to White families. Some groups (e.g. Bangladeshi, Cambodian) experience poverty rates comparable to Native-American, Black and Hispanic-identifying groups, and the Hmong community experiences poverty rates greater than all other minority groups.
Health Insurance Coverage
The high cost of health insurance is one of the primary reasons people lack coverage. A large number of Asian American groups are uninsured at rates greater than the White population, and many groups have greater or comparable rates of uninsurance to the Black population.
One of the most prevalent stereotypes perpetuated by the model minority myth is that Asian Americans exceed other groups on academic outcomes. The overall academic success (e.g. high rates of post-secondary education attainment, not shown here) of some Asian groups often obfuscates the low educational attainment of others. It is certainly true that some groups (Filipino, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, among others) have the greatest high school graduation rates compared to all other groups. However, at the same time, many Asian communities (e.g. Chinese, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Laotian) have a percentage without a high school diploma comparable, or greater than Native American and Black communities. Cambodian and Hmong groups in America are comparable to the Hispanic population, with close to 40% of the population lacking a high school diploma in these groups.
Just as with any other minority group, the Asian community is complex with a variety of experiences and struggles that go far beyond the accepted stereotypes. Parsing apart the monolith that is presented through mainstream media, microagressions and blatant discriminatory acts reveals an assortment of vibrant cultures - each with their own challenges and triumphs. To ignore these stories is to dismiss identity - to strip away humanity. It is crucial to question ideas like the model minority myth and ask who truly benefits from such a divisive narrative.